Monday, August 15, 2016

GRRR Review: Christmas Ninjas

Here is my 1st Review for the Game Reviews Round Robin (GRRR) kindly organized by Eleri Hamilton.

Christmas Ninjas An RPG of Ninjas, Fighting for Christmas, Who Are Also Rock Stars, by Mendel Schmiedekamp. - 10th Anniversary Edition, 2016

First the rules book is a 10 page PDF, with a small set of somewhat silly looking graphics. The layout however is well organized, clean and easy to read, and that's a plus.

The Back Story

Christmas Ninjas comes across as an adorable and whimsical game probably designed for children or very childish adults (inebriated). It starts with a fictional historical timeline that covers the major events of the 'War to Save Christmas'. There are a much maligned bunch of ninjas on the front lines. They are fighting ... Santa Claus and his legion of Secular Elves. "Some say the ninjas are terrible musicians, though the magic of the 80's hair bands is but a shallow reflection of the Christmas Ninjas' talents." Though some say they are heartless killers, they struggle day and night to fight Cancer (the astrological sign). Um ... yeah ... so you get the idea. Kinda crazy whimsical, and an adorable and highly original way. There almost seems to be a political message behind the crazy, but to be honest it's an almost and I really couldn't figure out whether it's there or not. But references to a war on Christmas (a real political issue), and mentions of Fox News and Nazis gives me the vague (and slightly disturbing) feeling that below the surface lurks a political agenda.

Next with that introduction there comes a short chronology in years which includes things like:

3712 BCE Mythical founding of the Order of the Christmas Ninjas, founded by Master Gingerbread.

2016 BCE - Death of last Gingerbread heir, beginning of the preeminence of the Panda Bear Masters, when no human ninja proved capable of leading the ninjas.

1233 BCE - Saturnalia Wars begin.

784 BCE - Saturnalia Wars end with uneasy truce.

27 BCE - Christmas invented.

129 CE - First successful Christmas, due to assistance of Saint Nick and his elven followers.

1734 CE - Great Betrayal - Santa Claus and his elves attack the ninjas, driving them out of the Christmas Fortress. They hide in the Black Hole Sun Mountains and begin to rebuild under their new panda leader. Global decline in panda population begins.

So you can see there is a perplexing/amusing historical backdrop. Die-hard Christians, and those who respect other people's religions may take umbrage at this game. So beware. It's heretical.

The Rules

Whomever plays the Christmas Ninjas takes on the role of GM.

Christmas Ninjas get a selection of Jutsu to choose from. You roll 3 dice when using it. Examples are:

Croonjitsu applies to the uses of the voice, whether singing, persuasion, or fast talking. Every team of Ninjas should have a Crooner for Rocking Out.

Gayjitsu applies to knifeless cooking, as Christmas Ninjas are prohibited from using any sort of blade by the No-Hair Code.

Lawnjitsu applies to thrown weapons, especially lawn darts, and ninja meditation dice.

Christmas Ninjas are good at stealth and eating. They are not good at anything without a Jitsu (from the list). That includes technology, disguise, animal training, or flower arranging. It is mentioned that there is a set of lost scrolls of lost jitsus, however, so ... one guesses that other skills may be learned by Christmas Ninja under some circumstances. There's also an amusing set of Dishonorable Techniques which Christmas Ninja shouldn't be good at, but are anyway, and using them adds an extra die to the roll, and grows 1 inch of hair (which turns out to be important). They also know how to Cheat Death, but this grows 6 inches of hair (which is bad).

The rules on Page 3 then go on to talk about creating Christmas Ninja. You pick a species: Human, Panda, or Penguin.

Here's an example:

Penguin
Penguins are the perverse creations of Dr. Ernesto Sellers, former owner of the ninjas current home. They have only recently been permitted to become Christmas Ninjas. Penguins get Halibutjitsu, Gayjitsu, and 3 jitsu of their choice, 3 Balance, can take 4 Wounds, and start with 1 inch of hair.

You then choose Jitsu, the number of which you get is according to the Species you chose, and then assign Merry Weapons which include "a metallic crochet needle for combat". You choose a name. And now you are ready to start a Mission.

You start by resupplying, choosing a Fuel, and a Leader (called "Lutenist"). There's a paragraph explaining Hair, and what it means in the game. Long hair is bad. The longer the badder. There's a list of dirty deeds which will cause hair growth including attacking with a forbidden weapon (1 inch), consuming unclean fuel (1 inch), killing a Christmas Ninja (4 inches), etc. At 2 feet of hair the Christmas Ninja is expected to commit honorable suicide with their metallic crochet needle. Christmas Ninjas have it tough, you know.

On to the Rules, starting on page 4. The primary mechanic is a dice matching system. You roll your dice, the GM rolls her dice, and unmatched dice are balanced for use in alter rolls. You can pretty much use any kind of dice you want, including FUDGE dice, for which a little chart is provided. For unlearned Jitsu you roll 1 die. For learned Jitsu you roll 3 dice. The GM will roll a number of opposing dice reflective of the skill level of the foe; the higher the skill level the more dice. Due to the variability of the dice selections I don't think it's very easy to provide a very effective analysis of the odds. However, as the mechanic is relatively simple, I imagine one would quickly get a feel for it after a few tries. A set of handy charts are provided to show the results.

On page 5 we come to the section titled "Rocking Out & Other Special Occasions". This includes "Difficult Actions", "Dangerous Actions", "Meditation", "Rocking Out" and "Leadership", and for each how to handle them mechanically (with special rules dealing with things like Fighting Cancer). To give you an idea of the nature of the rules I will provide you this example from the text:

Dangerous Actions
When fighting or doing daredevil stunts, such as jumping out of a penguin ornithopter without a parachute, getting zero successes means not just failing the roll, but incurring a wound. Wounds accumulate until a ninja has taken three, or four for a penguin. Any further wounds cause a ninja to die, unless she or he cheats death and immediately
grows 6 in of hair to remove their current wounds. All wounds are healed between missions.


So you get the idea. Whimsical is the best word I can think of to describe the intended style of the game, and I think you can by now see why that is.

On page 6 we get our selection of Merry Weapons, which include a Halibut (yes, the fish), as well as possible Gay Fuels (no, not that kind of gay), which include Twinkies and Cheeseburgers. We will presume that our Christmas Ninjas rank in as Chubby. There's also Forbidden Weapons which include Uzi machine guns, just in case you find yourself in need, but they cause 1 inch of hair growth to use, as mentioned earlier. There's also Unclean Fuels which can be any food that is not listed, and also heal wounds but cause 1 inch of hair growth. Yup.

On page 7 we come to the guts of the thing. GM's advice on how to build Missions. The missions should relate to defeating Santa and his Legion of Elves who are described as being like Legolas but dressed in holiday cloths and carrying Uzi's. You can also go after the much hated Hair Bands (traitors!), or defeating Cancer (those born under the dread astrological sign). The characters typically get air dropped from a penguin ornithopter. Throw some enemies at them, which may include ravenous shoppers, and robotic toys. Gay fuel must be consumed through the course of the mission, or your Ninjas will get hungry. Then there's a final blowout battle with lots of Rocking Out and other silliness. The surviving Ninjas will make their getaway in a Fox News van.

A handful of example missions are provided to get you going. Here's one:

"Seek out the Lost Temple of the Lost Scroll of the Lost Jitsu in the Black Hole Mountains (they are filled with hair bands)."

Here's another:

"Investigate an unexplored sub-basement of the Christmas Ninja's base and recover any of Seller's experiments which could be of use."

There's additional GM advice on handling Stealth and Initiative. Then follows the proclamation to get out there and save Christmas, followed by various helpful lists for the next few pages under the title of "GM Curious Facts & Prompts".

The lists cover such things as Fights, Not Fights, A Twist to the Mission, General Weirdness, Christmas Elves, Some Lost Jitsu, and some Fictional Cancers of Note. An example of the notes in these lists: "YULE brand Christmas cookies, made with real wasabi. Which makes them unclean food a ninja can consume without growing hair."

Finally, there is a clean and easy to use Character Sheet at the end.

Summary: To be fair, the entire silly thing was a product of a high speed design challenge conducted on New Years Eve of 2005/2006. We can suspect there was plenty of inebriation involved.  Hence this is a very silly game, probably best played while in an exuberant mood while imbibing a variety of mind altering substances. Which is not to say it won't be fun - I have a funny feeling that with the right bunch of friends this is a truly hysterical game. :)

To download the Original version of Christmas Ninja PDF (4 pages) and see the dawn of silliness for yourself you can find a copy here: Click Me for Christmas Ninja Silliness

I was unable to find an online version of the 2016 version for your linking pleasure, but I have reached out to Mendel and if he wishes to provide an online copy I will be happy to include a link to it here.

Edit:  This note is just in from Mendel: "This review is based on a preview version of Christmas Ninjas. Presently in production is a version with The Great Cookie Swap adventure and better, but no less silly, illustrations. The new version will be available on DriveThruRPG.com in a few months."

Ok that's it for the Round Robin RPG Review #1. Woot!








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